by Toney Blare

Pregame

– Time for some Super Bowl picks. We all know my Steelers will roll, but what about…

Devin Brown: Arizona, 31-24.

Rasual Butler: Pittsburgh, they have Cololalo—what’s his name?
SLAM: C’mon, man. It’s Polamalu.
RB: I wasn’t trying to be funny!

David West: Yeah, he’s bad. Polamalu. Arizona, 24-17.

Ryan Bowen: Arizona. Not betting.

Hilton Armstrong: I like Tiger Woods. Huh.

– Then attention turns to game tape of the Birdman dunking and hitting himself in the head with the flushed ball.

– Ah, the warmth of the dining room. I get some fish, some chicken, some pasta and a preview of tonight’s costume for the courtside hypemen: Afros. Yep, two dudes eating dinner with their afros on. Tonight is Hardwood Classics Night. The Hornets will wear the outfits of the ABA’s New Orleans Buccaneers. The Bucs’ version of CP3: Larry Brown. No, really, there was a newspaper story about this a few months back.

– Super Bowl picks from Denver shootaround:

J.R. Smith: Arizona, 24-17.

Kenyon Martin: Arizona.

Chauncey Billups: I’ll tell you after the game.
SLAM: You got to think about it?
CB: No, I don’t do interviews before the game.

– Wow, that’s an ironclad rule.

Hornets TV color commentator Gil McGregor: Pittsburgh.

– Not such a big surprise in this city, but Birdman sure gets a lot of love, from Hornets staff as well as fans, and especially the children, who all get pounds. In the lay-up line, he dunks off the backboard and J.R. Smith throws up the Birdman sign.

– This summer, I DJ’d a wedding for a guy who looked a lot like Renaldo Blackman, the last hour of which was strictly roots reggae. Just sayin’.

– High irony: The ceremonial gameball is presented by J.R. and Julian Wright, who some fear may be this year’s J.R., an eccentric but talented No. 1 pick who rots on Byron’s bench, only to blossom on another squad. With injuries to Tyson and DWest, JuJu gets the start tonight.

– Spike Lee in the house! Wow, just four seats down from me on the baseline, with union chief Billy Hunter. There aren’t too many artists I respect more than Spike. He walks over and gives some love to Melo, who looked OK in shootaround, but sits out tonight in a cream v-neck, necktie, and brown plaid pants. Crazy how much influence Kanye’s biting of Andre 3000 has had on fashion.

– Oops. Before we can start, a stretcher is rolled out to the opposite side of the court. A fan has apparently passed out. Cruelly, the PA plays “Low Rider.” That’s, uh, low.

First quarter

– Like the rest of us, CP3 really seems annoyed by KMart.

– The Honeybees have done it right with the throwback theme—or so seems the universal male response. Also, this year’s squad seems to include some hoops heads who I can hear make basketball-y catcalls and cheers throughout the first half.

– After a quick Denver start, CP3 takes control, Peja heats up and the Bees go ahead 13-12. James Posey is the only player I’ve ever seen who pushes the inbounds after a basket. What I mean is, he takes it from the ref, and chest passes it up to Chris, all without stopping his run.

– You’d think Nene would have a good night with the Hornets’ frontline out, and he gets a quick 7 before committing a foul and giving way to the Birdman, who gets some cheers, maybe a boo or two, and a discernible bird call.

– Honeybees take the court in roller skates during a break, along with three Domino’s deliverymen wearing Afros. Renaldo Balkman can’t figure out which one he wants more.

– Chris Paul-amalou picks off a pass from Anthony Carter, then hits Sean Marks for consecutive dunks. MVP-uhlease.

– 20-19, Nuggets at the break. During the pause, the Hornets’ drumline, consisting of teenagers, takes the court wearing afros. I wonder what Spike thinks. Bamboozled f*cked up my ability to watch sports and entertainment for at least a year. What does the afro-ization of an entire game package mean?

– Note to Aggrey: That attractive Asian woman who used to sit behind us and get crunk? Back on the scene.

Second quarter

– Ryan Bowen! That’s my man, I wish he got more minutes, you can see the impact instantly. And I sort of wish the Hornets still had the Birdman, too.

– On the Jumbotron, only Byron can name all five members of the Jackson 5? Can you?*

– Man, you’ve never seen a crowd in January beg for a first half AND 1 lay-up to fall like they just did for JuJu’s failed reverse. People are pulling for him, and he misses both FTs, sits down for CP3.

– With no Melo and no longer with AI, the Nuggets look a little more—I don’t know—team-ish. When you think about it, Chauncey falls right in line with the Glove and Sam Cassell, the PGs who’ve brought George Karl his successes. NeneStill, their offense is all over the place right now.

– Karl is livid as Chauncey throws it away on the break. Carter replaces him for one play, and Chauncey goes back in. Weird. KMart tries to trap CP3, who forces a foul. The former No. 1 overall cocks his arm for a second at the ref and draws a foul. I mean, that with the kiss neck tattoo is some lame WWF ish right there.

– Half ends 46-44, Bees. Peja has 13, Nene 11 and Chris has a quiet 6 and 4.

Halftime

– Two cookies, one coffee, a team of afro-trampoline-dunkers, and we learn that, oddly enough, Peja and Nene are sorta buddies. I’m a little too hasty with the cookies and get white powder on my black slacks, which seems a lot more 1970s throwback than wearing an afro. Also give Spike a pound, but don’t, like, chase him down for an interview, cause, like, this ain’t People Magazine and the dude is here to watch a game, not pad my, like, clips. Ahem.

Third quarter

– JuJu catches an oop to start it off, then strokes a nice jumper from the top of the key, then draws an offensive foul from J.R. It’s these flashes…

– New Orleans native Wendell Pierce, aka Bunk from The Wire, joins Spike.

– On the Jumbotron, Name-That-Tune reveals that Sean Marks has never heard of Welcome Back, Kotter. And while we’re on that, can people back-the-fck-up from John Travolta?! Scientologists should declare war on the Bahamas for some of these hijinks. Actually, that would be an interesting book…or Spike Lee film. Word to my man Derek, who texts me his script ideas for me to pass along. Sorry, Copbox.

– Hilton loses a shoe while diving for a rebound. Devin Brown helpfully re-laces it for him. Birdman has a tattoo of a snowflake on one elbow, and at 23 years old, Chris Paul works the refs and is involved in every corner of the game, as dominant a force as there is today, regardless of tonight’s stats.

– Anthony Carter flips out after an over-and-back call. I think the whole Gaza strip thing has really been fcking with him lately. Refs real bad tonight, though.

– 68-65 Hornets after three. Saints great Rickey Jackson is announced to the crowd, looks his age.

Forth quarter

– Sean Marks will not hesitate to swat a Bird.

Larry Brown 2.0 — If I can play Bill Simmons for a minute, the Nuggets look to be tuning out Karl. Guys sub out and pass him without making eye contact (Birdman the exception) or drift away from the timeouts. It’s now 76-70 and you can tell that with 8:00 left, they’re going to give up. Against a Hornets team with no Chandler, no West, Chris with only 8 and 8 at this point, Denver is about to give up, start turning it over, taking bad shots, and allowing Devin Freakin Brown to bang 3s and AND 1s. At some point, inconsistency is a coach’s fault. Actually, almost always. Chauncey looks more like a Nugget with each passing minute, and that’s not a good thing. Oh, and Karate Kid Giselle Bundchen, too.

– Suddenly, the Bees are up 13, “Shout!” is blasting thru the PA, Hugo the Hornet is spinning around the court on roller skates, and Spike Lee is in an animated conversation with an 11-year-old wearing a Red Sox hat. I’m telling you, 2009, you’re my year! You’re my year.

– With 2:30 left and the Bugs up 88-74, Karl pulls his starters. Byron? Ohh, no. That Olympian kid needs to finish this thing. Johann Petro might get hot or something.

– Game: 94-81.

Postgame

– Karl takes a long time coming out. I catch up with Tyson Chandler, who’s limping around the tunnel, I think waiting on his wife. (And by the way, all of us would wait on that woman.)

SLAM: How you feeling?
Tyson Chandler: I’m doing alright.

SLAM: Those don’t look like the best shoes for this situation! (He’s wearing some fresh loafers that look less than comfortable.)
TC: Nah, they’re actually good. I got a lift in them, it’s cool.

SLAM: OK. So who you got in the Super Bowl?
TC: I’m going to say Pittsburgh. They got Polamalu.

SLAM: That’s my man. When you think you’ll be back?
TC: Next week. I thought Friday, but looks like next week.

– Finally, Karl emerges and takes a seat on a folding chair. He looks tired, a little vacant. Again, he never knows what to expect from his team. Which, to me, after four years, is pretty damning for him and the players. He answers some questions and as he heads back in, I catch him, cause we’re homeboys of sorts.

SLAM: You’re a Penn Hills guy. How do you like the Steelers chances on Sunday?
George Karl: I love ‘em.

SLAM: You got a score?
GK: I’d say 23-13, something like that.

SLAM: Alright, good luck, coach.

My pick: Pittsburgh, 31-23. I’ll be wearing my Mel Blount jersey to work on Monday.

*Jackson 5: Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and that other guy, the one who used to rock an afro.